CALGARY -- The federal government is no longer allowing employers linked to the sex trade to hire strippers, escorts and massage-parlour workers from outside the country.
"Frankly this should have been done a long time ago," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.
"Why would we grant visas to girls that we have a strong suspicion are going to end up under the thumb of a criminal gang being exploited and trafficked?
"We're not going after the women -- we're protecting them from what they might not know will happen to them when they get to Canada."
Effective immediately, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada will issue negative labour market opinions for all applications from employers linked to the sex trade, effectively preventing them from hiring temporary foreign workers.
Also, as of July 14, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will no longer process new work permit applications from temporary foreign workers intending to work for sex-trade-related businesses.
Kenney said those at highest risk of being exploited are young women, with poor language skills, who are likely to come from Asia or Eastern Europe expecting they will make their fortune when they come to Canada.
He said Canada issued about 180,000 permits for foreign workers last year and estimates a "very small percentage" of those ended up working in the sex trade.
Kenney said that's a far cry from the hundreds of exotic dancers that were allowed in during the previous Liberal administration -- "many of whom ended up in the sex trade being controlled by organized crime.
"It was known as the Liberal stripper program."
In 2004, then-immigration minister Judy Sgro was criticized for granting a temporary residence permit to an exotic dancer who had volunteered for her election campaign.
Kenney said there will be some exceptions. Properly certified therapeutic masseuses who are working in clinics will not be affected.
The new restrictions will apply to other businesses if there is a heightened risk of abuse or exploitation of workers.
"We know that human trafficking is a growing aspect of organized crime worldwide, including in Canada," Kenney said.
"The victims of human trafficking, who are mostly women and children, are denied a normal life and compelled to provide labour or sexual services through a variety of coercive practices, for the profit of their controllers."
The measure is part of the government's plan to combat human trafficking.
-- The Canadian Press